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The Aftermath was the nineteenth short story in Down the Middle.

Plot[edit | edit source]

As the sun sets, Kwol asks Chris Cwej to explain how they came to be where they are. Chris says he will start from the beginning.

Earlier, on the Base of Operations, a guard escorts Chris from a jail cell to a court presided over by the High President. He announces that Chris is to be executed for the crime of harbouring the interdimensional criminals Larles and Kwol; cameras swarm the court, broadcast this as an example to all Cwejen. The President says that Larles has willingly become a Superior agent. He produces a small, luminous cube, and reveals that it is the physical form of the Vicinity, the computer housing Chris's consciousness. One of the presiding Superiors smashes the cube, and Chris collapses.

Chris wakes up in a 21st century-style hotel room withh a red-haired woman. He recognizes her as his reporter partner from Dawn 1027. She reveals that she is the consciousness of the Vicinity, or Vicky. Having used the last of her strength to send him to this universe, she tells him to start a new life and forget the Superiors, and fades away. Chris uses the room phone to call George Cwej, and requests that he create a portal to return him to the Base. He arrives back in the court an instant after he left, and demands a meeting with Larles, freedom from servitude, and the truth about the Evil Renegade. When the President refuses to reveal the truth of the Renegade, Chris draws his blaster and shoots him, then flees the courtroom.

Chris spends months hiding out among the lower levels of the city. One night, he is discovered by Larles. She reveals that his assassination of the President sparked a violent Uprising among the Cwejen, led by a Cwej named Thomas Mackeray. Larles wants to leverage Chris's influence to bring the conflict to a stop. Using a 341-form timeship, Larles shows Chris his native 30th century Earth, now a warzone where the rebel Cwejen are based. Next, she takes him to Mackeray's Secret Fort, a subterranean mansion, where they shoot their way through Cwej guards in order to steal information from Mackeray's computer; however, Larles decides to abandon Chris after he makes a nonchalant comment about Kwol.

On the run again, Chris decides he has no interest in halting the Uprising. He steals a prototype of the Vicinity, recreates Vicky to the best of his ability, and loads the cube with a sample of Kwol's biodata, creating a Kwol data ghost. Chris travels to a desert planet orbiting Svelter V, where he hopes he will not be disturbed, digs a hole deep enough to hold his stasis tube, and seals himself inside it. Inside the grey void of the Vicinity, he meets a confused virtual Kwol. Chris summons a country road for them to walk down together, and tells Kwol the full story of what happened since PsyCon. He looks forward to having many new adventures together.

Characters[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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Story notes[edit | edit source]

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Continuity[edit | edit source]

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External links[edit | edit source]

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Superior +, The Vicinity +, Judy Collins +, George Cwej +, Iris Wildthyme +, Bilip +, Kady Williams +, The Gestalt +  and Cwejen +